Reaction: Tougher Test
Tonight the Men’s Soccer team beat the Virginia Cavaliers. The game was played at home during alumni week, and thus drew a large crowd as well as coverage by Fox Soccer Channel. The Tar Heels emerged winners by a score of 1-0, with an intense game punctuated by hard fouls, great saves, and ultimately a single goal from Andy Craven.
The Cavaliers posed a stern test for the Heels. Although Virginia is not ranked, they are a team loaded with young talent and their schedule this year is one of the hardest in college soccer. As such, they lead the national RPI. Virginia is also a perennial ACC power and they won the College Cup itself just two years ago, so they were far from an easy opponent, even for the defending national champs.
The Tar Heels were made to adapt their style quickly, for the Virginia midfield was designed around stopping the short passing game the Heels favor. Tight marking across the center of midfield and a rash of early Virginia fouls in the center of the pitch meant that the Tar Heels would need to find an alternate route towards goal. To counter this tactic, the Heels spread the field well to open up space for a pass and then made long passes to the open players, although long balls are more difficult to strike with accuracy, and this resulted in the Tar Heels being somewhat less potent in the attack.
The first half brought a few good chances, with Martin Murphy drawing a fine early save off of a dipping free kick. The next good chance fell to Virginia’s Will Bates, who fought three defenders off of a lifted ball and managed a hard shot at goal, which luckily was directed straight at UNC keeper Scott Goodwin. The Cavaliers followed that up with a well struck corner, which resulted in a header being snatched up by Goodwin. The introduction of UNC’s Josh Rice to the game saw him nearly score with his first touch, as a lovely cross field pass allowed him to make a run and shoot on goal from the left side of the box, drawing a fine save from UVA keeper Spencer LaCivita.
The second half livened up considerably, with the Tar Heels scoring just after the break. A long pass to Danny Garcia set him up to give Andy Craven a brilliant lifted through ball into the right side of the box, which allowed Craven to run onto goal and slot the ball home between the keeper’s legs. The Cavaliers were quick to respond, with a cross coming off of a deflected corner kick nearly being directed home, save for a goal line clearance from the UNC defense.
Following the goal and the UNC clearance, Danny Garcia broke free and was harshly brought down after nearly skipping past the UVA back line, resulting in a UNC free kick and a yellow card for the offender. Garcia seemed to take a bit of a knock, but was able to keep playing. This foul began a period of rough play which resulted in a savage tackle from Virginia’s Matt Brown being rewarded with a yellow card and with Virginia striker Will Bates drawing a free kick just outside the box when he was pulled down from behind by his shirt.
The final third of the game saw the Tar Heels nearly double their advantage via Cam Brown after his late run on the wing resulted in a sumptuous shot, but after that point saw the Tar Heels mostly close out the game in their own half. Virginia’s Darius Madison did well to nearly get through the Tar Heel defense when his run was fed by a lifted through pass, but his shot hit the post and his run was called offside. He also tested Scott Goodwin in goal with a well struck header, but this was Goodwin’s night and he was never likely to concede. The Tar Heel defense played well, and did a good job to close out the game with the help of goalkeeper Goodwin.
The “Cavs” tested Scott Goodwin on a few occasions, but his excellent goalkeeping meant that he was named man of the match, just as he set the UNC record for career shutouts. The cynical play of the Cavaliers in the midfield helped the game get a little “chippy” at certain periods, but the match official Robert Grenus seemed more than willing to get in the players’ faces to keep the game under control.
The Tar Heels can now look ahead to a home game against Wofford next Tuesday the 25th.